I Know It When I See It!



The dictionary defines obscene as, offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency. On Monday February 10, 2014; on the lawn of Hayden Library at Arizona State University, I saw something that was extremely obscene.

It stood about 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide on a panel, and each of the panels were in a five sided pentagon shape. On each one of the sides was graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and the females that have participated in the act of abortion, and . Before the entrance of the lawn there was a small sign stating that there is graphic images ahead, and people yelling that they have the right of free speech. I did however not take any pictures to showing the graphic imagery.

The First Amendment of the Constitution states; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Now I am all for freedom of speech and the right to protest, but only if it is done in a tasteful manner, and that is doesn’t disturb the normal “peace” going on. And thats what this protest was doing, people were covering their eyes trying not to see the awful images, and the fact that there was a sign saying there was a graphic images that was so small and not far back enough so that students could have had the opportunity to take a different path and not be witness to the billboard.

The United States has had Supreme Court cases that have handled obscenity issues. The most famous and the most quoted is Miller v. California (1973). This is the case that has set the premise of the Miller Test. The Miller Test or also called the Three Prong Obscenity Test, is the United States Supreme Court’s test for determining whether speech or expression can be labeled obscene, in which case it is not protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and can be prohibited. The Miller Tests three prongs are: 1. Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole appeals to prurient interests. 2. Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically define by applicable state law. 3. Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Now based off the Miller Test, I believe that is violates the first prong. The images showed that the average person found that the work appealed to prurient (uneasy with desire) interests, the fact that people were covering their eyes made the images obscene.

Now in closing I quote Justice Potter Stewart (1958-1981) from the obscenity case Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”

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1 Response to I Know It When I See It!

  1. Harmon Gale says:

    Interesting post. A few questions though.
    1. What gives Americans the right to not be offended by something?
    2. Any and all public protest disturb the “public peace” if you define “peace” as the right to go about your day and not be offended by any sort of speech.
    -the message of war protesters can often offend families of military service personnel who’ve lost loved ones in combat
    -Tea Party protesters who with racist overtones insist the President is a secret Muslim without a birth certificate offend many Americans
    -Occupy Wall Street protesters who call for redistribution of wealth offend people who think private property rights are fundamental American values.
    -Animal rights activists use graphic imagery of animal experimentation which offends many people
    I sincerely hope you wouldn’t want to curtail the First Amendment rights of any of those groups. Why then should abortion protesters have their free speech rights abridged simply because many students found the images the protesters used offensive?
    3. I’m not sure where you got your definition of “prurient,” but every definition that I’ve found clearly shows the word pertains to content of a sexual nature.
    -pru·ri·ent [proor-ee-uhnt]
    1.having, inclined to have, or characterized by lascivious or lustful thoughts, desires, etc.
    2.causing lasciviousness or lust.
    3.having a restless desire or longing.
    (Random House Dictionary)

    -Inordinately interested in matters of sex; lascivious.
    1. Characterized by an inordinate interest in sex: prurient thoughts.
    2. Arousing or appealing to an inordinate interest in sex: prurient literature.
    (New American Heritage Dictionary)

    -marked by or arousing an immoderate or unwholesome interest or desire; especially: marked by, arousing, or appealing to sexual desire
    (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

    I don’t think prong, the first, of the Miller Test has been violated in this case.

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